FARGO — Zoran Mojsilov was a rising art star in his native Yugoslavia (now known as Serbia) in the early 1980s, but when the ruling Communist party questioned his work, he fled his homeland looking for a safer place to express himself.
Mojsilov didn’t want to just leave behind the communist regime — he wanted to move ahead in time to a safer and more supportive place in his career.
Now at that point, those feelings help form his new body of work, “Time Machine,” which makes its debut with the ongoing show at the Plains Art Museum in downtown Fargo.
"It’s looking back and seeing how some of my pieces from 40 years ago fit today,” the 64-year-old says from his studio in St. Paul. “Before I was never this old to have enough time to look back. This is the first time I was ever this old.”
Seeing how some older works fit today is a pretty apt description of “Time Machine.” The show includes pieces that are decades old integrated into his new work, 14-foot wooden towers with hand-carved discs and gears.
The exhibit actually includes the pieces that brought scrutiny from the Communists.
In 1983, Mojsilov won top honors in a Yugoslavian show for a sculpture that included a number of bound human figures.
“Communists didn’t like this,” the artist says, adding that the show’s director said they couldn’t show the pieces.
Mojsilov didn’t protest. Instead, he fled the country a couple of days later for Paris with the sculptures in tow.
Those works are now incorporated in the long-armed construction, “Catapult,” a work he says is about transformation.
“He wants to catapult himself in the future,” said Plains Art Museum director and CEO Andy Maus during a walk-through of the show.
The exhibit opened in November and runs through May 25 and serves as the inspiration for the Plains' annual Spring Gala on May 3.
Maus says the scale of the pieces and its themes of immigration and refugee issues make it one of the best sculpture shows he’s ever seen at the Plains.
Mojsilov says it's the biggest indoor show he’s ever done, but some of his larger works are visible at popular Twin Cities attractions like Target Field and the Surly Brewing complex.
The structures may be roughly cut and painted, but Maus says considerable thought that went into the display. He points out that patterns on the work are inspired by traditional Serbian designs, like the ones on a rug hanging just inside the gallery entrance. A sculpture is painted in the outline of a frog, a symbol for transition and transformation.
The larger pieces include discs that look like gears, but Maus says they also function as tables and even hold some of the artist's smaller sculptures.
“The tables are symbolic of people gathering, welcoming,” Maus says. “It’s a very sentimental series.”
The tone is set as soon as visitors walk in the door. To their right is the colorful hanging rug and straight ahead is a poem by his friend, Wahpeton, N.D., native and National Book Award winner Louise Erdrich in an angular frame by Mojsilov.
It reads: “Gather yourself in the darkness, Take only what you can carry in your heart.”
Tasha Kubesh, associate curator of collections and exhibitions at the Plains, met Mojsilov about a decade ago when she was working in the Twin Cities. She kept in touch, and after the Plains purchased a piece and the artist had a show at the North Dakota Museum of Art a few years ago, she reached out to see if he wanted to have a solo show at the Plains and he told her about a new series.
“It was developing into a really important and strong exhibition for our region having to do with refugees and immigration,” Kubesh says of what would become “Time Machine.”
Kubesh will host a discussion with the artist on Thursday, April 4. While Mojsilov is chatty and engaging, he’s already made his opening statement with the work itself.
“I told everything with my work. Some people can hear what I said, some don’t,” he says.
If you go
What: Conversation with Zoran Mojsilov
When: 6-7 p.m. Thursday, April 4
Where: Plains Art Museum, 704 First Ave. N., Fargo
Info: The event is free and open to the public; https://plainsart.org